Rafael Nadal admitted Novak Djokovic adapted to the conditions better in a dramatic French Open semi-final – one that will live long in the memory.
Nadal, the world No. 3 from Spain, had never been beaten in the semi-finals or beyond at Roland Garros – boasting a 26-0 record – but felt the full force of Djokovic’s might on Friday night in a four-hour epic on Philippe Chatrier.
Djokovic fell 5-0 down at the start of the match but bounced back to become the first man to defeat Nadal from a set down on the clay courts of Paris as he inflicted just the third defeat of Nadal’s career at Roland Garros.
He owns two of those defeats but this one will surely go down as his greatest and he will now have a shot at a 19th major title when he faces Greek fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s final.
For Nadal, he will now turn his attention to the grass-court season as he looks to edge past Roger Federer in the all-time Grand Slam charts.
Reflecting on the 3-6 6-3 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 defeat, Nadal said in his post-match press conference: ‘That’s tennis. The player who get used to the conditions better is the player who deserve to win. So no doubt he deserved to win.
‘That’s sport, you know. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I tried to give my best. Probably was not my best day out there. Even if I fought, that I put in a lot of effort, I mean, the position on the shots haven’t been that effective tonight. Against a player like him that takes the ball early, you are not able to take him out of his positions, then is very difficult, no?
‘Even like this, I had the big chance with set point, 6-5, second serve. That’s it. Anything could happen in that moment. Then I make a double-fault, easy volley in the tiebreak. But it’s true that have been crazy points out there. The fatigue is there, too, no?
‘These kind of mistakes can happen. But if you want to win, you can’t make these mistakes. So that’s it. Well done for him. Have been a good fight out there. I try my best, and today was not my day.’
The crowd were permitted to stay for the conclusion of the match, despite it running beyond Paris’s 11pm curfew and Nadal – who struggled with a foot injury towards the end – was appreciative of their support.
‘Have been amazing, the support, no? I can’t thank enough the feelings,’ he added. ‘I have been super tired some moments, but the crowd gave me some energy to keep going, no?
‘Yeah, it’s super emotional for me to feel the love of the people in the most important place of my tennis career, without a doubt. So thanks a lot to them.’
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